Nelson McCausland: Of course Sinn Fein opposes a memorial to the Belfast Blitz... wasn't the IRA on Hitler's side?
Republicans' collusion with fascist regime one of the darkest chapters in their history, writes Nelson McCausland
The proposal to erect a memorial to the victims of the Belfast Blitz should be welcomed by everyone. Over the course of three nights in April and May 1941, German bombers killed more than 1,000 people and left more than 100,000 homeless.
The bombs did not discriminate and the victims included Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists. The factories and shipyards of Belfast made an important contribution to the war effort and so it was inevitable that the city would become a target for the Nazis.
It is right that we remember the loss of life. But last week, when a committee of Belfast City Council considered a proposal to erect a Blitz memorial at Cathedral Gardens, it was rejected, with members of Sinn Fein and the SDLP voting against it.
Undoubtedly, the matter will now be raised again at the January council meeting and we must hope that the decision will be reversed.
The proposed location would be ideal, as Cathedral Gardens is on land that was formerly known as 'Blitz Square', as was another site, at High Street. Indeed, nearby is the old Belfast Telegraph building, which still bears the scars of the German bombs.
So, why would Sinn Fein and the SDLP vote against the proposal? It is possible that, rather than seeing the memorial as an opportunity for 'shared remembrance', some councillors may view it as an opportunity for leverage on some other issue they want to pursue.
In the case of Sinn Fein, there may also be an awareness of the role played by the IRA in assisting the Nazis to carry out that terrible onslaught.
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The late Sam McAughtry, an RAF veteran of the Battle of Britain and later a senator in Dublin, stated in 1997 that a former IRA activist confessed to him that the IRA helped Hitler bomb Belfast.
The IRA activist said that he gathered intelligence information about vulnerable targets before and after the Germans carried out the four bombing raids in 1941 and also reported on damage caused in the Blitz.
Sam McAughtry said that, at the time of the confession, the former IRA man was elderly and refused to be identified for fear of reprisals.
Nevertheless, there is no reason to doubt his testimony and, indeed, there is documentary evidence that the IRA collaborated with the Nazis and wanted the Germans to bomb Belfast again.
After the Germans had bombed the city, the IRA produced a 14-page survey of the damage caused by the German Luftwaffe and provided information and advice for the Nazis.
The typescript IRA document came to light on October 20, 1941, when Helena Kelly, an IRA courier, was arrested in Dublin and the document was found in her handbag. It appears not to have reached the hands of the Germans, but was clearly intended for the Nazis.
The IRA report gave a detailed account of the damage caused by the Luftwaffe and identified targets that had escaped destruction. It also suggested that, if these targets were "bombed by the Luftwaffe as thoroughly as the other areas in recent raids", Belfast would "be rendered a negative quantity in Britain's war effort".
However, a 'special note' from the IRA also highlighted "the Fall's (sic) Road, the chief site of Nationalism" and "the Prison, where some 300 to 400 Irish Republican soldiers are imprisoned". The message from the IRA for the Nazis was very clear: please come back and finish off bombing Belfast, but do not bomb our people and our prisoners.
Throughout the Second World War, the IRA collaborated with the Nazis and their assistance for the Luftwaffe was one part of that collaboration.
It is an aspect of the story of the Belfast Blitz that is often forgotten - and there are those who would prefer it to remain forgotten.
While Ulstermen and Irishmen, Protestants and Catholics, were fighting the Nazis on the battlefields of Europe, the IRA was collaborating with German fascists.
That collaboration, or collusion, with the Nazis is one of the deepest stains on the blood-stained history of the IRA.